WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump is proposing a huge $54 billion surge in U.S. military spending for new aircraft, ships and fighters in his first federal budget while slashing big chunks from domestic programs and foreign aid to make the government “do more with less.”
The Trump blueprint, due in more detail next month, would fulfill the Republican president’s campaign pledge to boost Pentagon spending while targeting the budgets of other federal agencies. The “topline” figures emerged Monday, one day before Trump’s first address to a joint session of Congress, an opportunity to re-emphasize the economic issues that were a centerpiece of his White House run.
Domestic programs and foreign aid would as a whole absorb a 10 percent, $54 billion cut from currently projected levels — cuts that would match the military increase. The cuts would be felt far more deeply by programs and agencies targeted by Trump and his fellow Republicans, like the Environmental Protection Agency as well as foreign aid. Veterans’ programs would be exempted, as would border security, additional law enforcement functions and some other areas.
“We’re going to start spending on infrastructure big. It’s not like we have a choice — our highways, our bridges are unsafe, our tunnels,” the president told a group of governors at the White House on Monday. He added, “We’re going to do more with less and make the government lean and accountable to the people.”
However, Trump’s final version of the budget is sure to leave large deficits intact — or even add to them if he follows through on his campaign promise for a huge tax cut.
His plan faces strong opposition from Democrats, who possess the power to block it. The immediate reaction from Republicans was mixed, with prominent defense hawks like Sen. John McCain of Arizona saying it would do too little to help the Pentagon and fiscal conservatives and supporters of domestic agencies expressing caution.
The White House indicated that the foreign aid cuts would be particularly large.
Asked about those plans, top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell of Kentucky would say only, “We’ll see how it works out.”
A congressional showdown is inevitable later this year, and a government shutdown a real possibility.
White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said the spike in Pentagon spending would bring the total defense budget to a record $603 billion — and that’s before including tens of billions of dollars for overseas military operations.
The United States already spends more on defense than the next seven countries combined, but military leaders have complained repeatedly that aircraft are aging. Congress was told recently that the average age of Air Force aircraft is 27 years, and more than half of the service’s inventory would qualify for antique vehicle license plates in Virginia.
“It is a true America first budget. It will show the president is keeping his promises and will do exactly what he said he was going to do,” Mulvaney said. “It prioritizes rebuilding our military, including restoring our nuclear capabilities, protecting the nation and securing the border, enforcing the laws currently on the books, taking care of vets and increasing school choice.”
The border wall would cost $2.9 billion in 2018, according to draft documents for the Department of Homeland Security, which assume the agency would hire 500 new members of the Border Patrol and 1,000 new Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents next year. Detention beds for apprehended immigrants would receive $2 billion over current-year spending. The Transportation Security Administration ticket fee would increase by $1 to $6.60 for each one-way flight.
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York said, “It is clear from this budget blueprint that President Trump fully intends to break his promises to working families by taking a meat ax to programs that benefit the middle class.”
Mulvaney said the plan wouldn’t add to the budget deficit — currently projected to hit about $500 billion next year — but it wouldn’t reduce it, either. The administration again made clear that the government’s largest benefit programs, Social Security and Medicare, would be exempt from cuts when Trump’s full budget submission is released in May.
GOP Rep. Mike Simpson of Idaho, a member of the Appropriations Committee, said the large cuts Trump envisions making to domestic programs won’t fly.
“There’s a lot of members that have a lot of interest in a lot of these programs,” Simpson said. “There’s more to our government than just defense.”
But McCain said Trump’s Pentagon plans would fall short by almost $40 billion and represent just a small increase over former President Barack Obama’s recent Pentagon wish list.
“With a world on fire, America cannot secure peace through strength with just 3 percent more than President Obama’s budget,” said McCain, chairman of the Armed Services Committee.
On Monday, tentative proposals for the 2018 budget year that begins Oct. 1 were being sent to federal agencies, which will have a chance to propose changes.
Before the new budget year, there’s an April 28 deadline to finish up spending bills for the current 2017 budget year, which is almost half over, and any stumble or protracted battle could risk a government shutdown then as well.
There’s expected to be an immediate infusion of 2017 cash for the Pentagon of $20 billion or more, and also the first wave of funding for Trump’s promised border wall and other initiatives like hiring immigration agents.